Christmas Tamales Tradition: Explained


Cootie Browns Traditional Beef Tamales
Cootie Brown’s Traditional Beef Tamales

It’s tamale time. Goldbelly is one hot tamale, packing up warm bundles of corn masa stuffed with savory or sweet fillings and spreading Christmas cheer this holiday season. This Mexican comfort food has a long history and is an essential part of every major holiday, particularly Christmas. It’s also the perfect portable snack for holiday travelers.

Read More: Traditional Christmas Foods Across America

What is a Tamale?

Made of masa, a dough made of maize (corn), Mexican tamales are stuffed with: 

or sweet fillings like: 

  • Coconut
  • Pineapple
  • Raisins

They are steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf, making for the ultimate hand-held snack or meal. Tamales can be made to accommodate special diets like gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian.

El Charro Cafe Tamales Choose Your Own Pack
El Charro Café’s Choose Your Own Pack Tamales
Picos Mexican Restaurant Sweet Tamales
Picos Mexican Restaurant Sweet Tamales

How Did Tamales Become a Christmas tradition?

Tamales have been eaten for centuries — the Mayans, Aztecs, Incas, Toltecs, and Olmecs ate them — and corn had a special place in Mesoamerica. These bundles of corn were offered as sacrifices to the gods as many believed corn was used by the gods to make humans.

The time-honored tradition of making — and eating — Christmas tamales begins before Christmas. It extends through the 12th day of Christmas. The fun begins on December 12, which is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Mexican holiday that commemorates when the Virgin Mary appeared before a peasant, Juan Diego, in the 16th century. The feasting ends on January 6, which is Epiphany, the last day of Christmas and the day the three kings visited Jesus after his birth. 

During this nearly month-long period, tamaladas (tamale making parties) are held, and families and friends come together to make Christmas tamales with a variety of fillings like chicken and Hatch chiles, black beans and cheese, and even newer creations like El Charro Cafe‘s Vegan Hazelnut Dessert Tamales. These hazelnut tamales are made with hazelnuts, hazelnut spread, and a dash of cinnamon. 
Tamale making isn’t just reserved for Christmas. Talamadas are also held before important celebrations like wedding anniversaries and baptisms.

How to Eat a Tamale

To eat a tamale, simply unwrap the corn husk wrapper like a Christmas present and dig in! Tamales make an excellent Christmas dinner or a tasty snack to eat during your holiday travels. Some food explorers like to top their tamales with tomatillo sauce or red chile sauce.

Most Famous Tamales

The most famous tamales are Christmas tamales from Texas and beyond. Let the pros do the work this holiday season and treat yourself to ready-to-taste tamales shipping nationwide on Goldbelly!

Fat Mama's Tamales Mississippi Tamales

Fat Mama’s Tamales

Today, the taste of tamales stretches beyond central America. At the tail end of the Mississippi in Natchez, Mississippi, Jimmy and Britton Gammill of Fat Mama’s Tamales have been making legendary homemade tamales since 1989. Their Mississippi Tamales are spicy masa stuffed with seasoned ground beef and pork roast. Wash them down with their Knock You Naked Margarita Mix.

Texas Tamale Company

Shirley Bailey of Houston’s Texas Tamale Company is a wrap star thanks to her tasty tamales. Host a holiday fiesta and feast on these lard-free and gluten-free tamales stuffed with pork, Mexican beef, gourmet black bean, and spicy chicken.

Texas Tamale Company Tamale Party Pack Meal Kit
Tucson Tamale Choose Your Own Tamales

Tucson Tamale

Since 2008, Sherry Martin has been hand making her award-winning tamales with local Hatch green chiles, and Santa Cruz red chiles and green chiles. Tucson Tamale‘s lard-free tamales are made with non-GMO oil. Martin uses only organic, non-GMO corn and hormone- and antibiotic-free pork and chicken in her traditional tamales. Choose from 10 flavors or try them all, including:

  • Red chile pork or beef 
  • Green chile pork & cheese
  • Green chile chicken
  • Green chile & cheese
  • Breakfast sausage & cheese
  • Black bean & cheese or corn
  • Blue corn & veggie
  • Hot & spicy pork

Be a ho-ho-hot tamale. Ship classic Christmas tamales nationwide with Goldbelly to everyone on your list.

Lauren Mack

Lauren Mack is a journalist who writes about all things food for Goldbelly. She is passionate about exploring the world one meal at a time. Her favorite things to Goldbelly include cakes, biscuit sandwiches, and ice cream.

Lauren has been a journalist for more than two decades and has specialized in writing about travel and food for much of that time. Her work has appeared in 150+ websites, magazines, apps, and guidebooks, including Cheapflights, CultureTrip, INSIDER, Lonely Planet, Newsweek International, Savory Traveler, Seeker, The Daily Meal, ThoughtCo (formerly, Thrillist, Time Out, TripSavvy, and Zagat.

A lover of Taiwan's night markets, Singapore's hawker centers, and New York City's food trucks, Lauren has never skipped a meal or dessert. She has an insatiable appetite for exploring the world's best food and will try — almost — anything. Her favorite foods are pizza, ice cream, dim sum, sushi, and Taiwanese braised pork rice, and she can't resist a chef's tasting menu.

From backpacking across Europe and Asia to circumnavigating the globe by ship to living like a local in multiple cities, her travels have taken her on food explorations to 60+ countries on five continents. She has called Miami, Beijing, Taipei, and New York home.